Can There Be Peace? Violence in the Name of Religion

sinking shipThe following excerpts are from Jan Bygstad of Bergen, Norway.  His comments appeared in the Concordia Theological Quarterly 76 (2012) as he reflected on Norway’s “9/11” when Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 69 victims on July 22, 2011.   He reflects on what the atrocity reveals about the situation of the Church of Norway. To read his entire piece, please see CTQ 76, Number 3-4 July/October 2012: 348-358.

[Olave Skjevesland, now bishop] said, ‘ The ministry of word and sacrament has been replaced by the ministry of caring and comforting.’ Two important features of the national church’s role may here be pointed out: First, the name of Christ has scarcely been mentioned [during the aftermath of the killings]. The leaders of the church have limited themselves to a general and very unspecific ‘God-talk.’  But which god? Second, the god that has been preached is a therapeutic one, a ‘shrink,’ to say it a bit disrespectfully.  This means that the Church of Norway in this situation has reduced itself and its message to be part of the social welfare system, taking care of psychological health and religious comfort. A secular journalist comments on this as follows: ‘After July 22nd the church has taken up the role as administrator of public sorrow, willingly paying the price through ideological self-annihilation.’

In the history of the church, national disasters have been met with a totally different response: The people sought out the church to repent and confess their sins, to cry out of the mercy of God, that he might turn away His wrath.  The difference between the present religious reaction and the past reveals a deep shift in the mentality of our nation.  The main problem is that we hurt because we are hit by evil, not that we ourselves are evil. Our problem is ‘the other,” those who are not as tolerant as we are. Consequently we do not need grace or salvation, only comfort and explanation. (Emphasis added)  …

Since the reign of these two emperors [Constantine and Theodosius], western culture has shaped a historical epoch that may be called ‘the Constantinian Era,’ an era that now is coming to an end. The Constantine linking of imperial power with ecclesial authority, by and by, resulted in deep consequences for the church that remolded Christendom.  I here highlight only a few important features. First, while Jesus said that his ‘kingdom was not of this world’ (John 18:36), the church to a large extent now became of this world. Second, although Jesus taught that the use of force, power, and violence belonged to the princes of this world, his church should be characterized by meekness, willing service, and love of one’s neighbor (Matt 20:25-28). The church was to suffer evil rather than inflict it on others. … Third, Christian morality became the norm of legislation within the civil society, and regulated all parts of European life. Finally, Christian faith became the formative influence in all parts of what we call ‘culture’: literature, music, painting, sculpture, architecture and so forth. …

‘The weakness of God’ is God’s way of salvation.  … his almightiness looks like weakness; his wisdom like stupidity; the man that he wants to live must die; the cross on which Christ was gloriously victorious  over sin, Satan, and death looks like a total and disgraceful defeat in men’s eyes. …

God’s ‘mode of operation’ is through his word. When God wants something done, he speaks.  This is how it was in the beginning when he created heaven and earth, and this is the way he spreads and enlarges his spiritual kingdom on earth. God’s word is the secret of his kingdom. All other means are flesh. Through his word God speaks to our hearts. Efforts to coerce the heart have never been Christ’s way. This means that all true and godly work in Christ’s kingdom on earth rests in faith on the efficacy of the word. In the end we cannot do God’s work. Only God’s word has this power. …

… Secularization in Europe and Scandinavia not only means that the Constantinian era is coming to an end and the Christian faith no longer has any influence on society. Churches are so secularized, that they are void of a confessional backbone and dilute their message into a wishy-washy humanism.

The adapting of the church to what modern man thinks and holds true is a kind of ecclesial counter-strategy; it is an attempt to halt the flow of people exiting the church and Christian faith by demonstrating that Christendom is relevant to modern man. Paradoxically, while making journalists and mass media more ‘positive’ towards the church, this strategy has had the opposite effect.  The churches are being ‘preached empty.’ When the church tries to be ‘relevant’ on the conditions set by secular man, it loses its relevance; it has nothing of real importance to say. The sad thing about all this is that the church through all this ceases to be the ‘salt of the earth.’ …

… Lutherans are today an endangered species in the Scandinavian countries and the Lutheran faith is threatened with being reduced to a historical parenthesis.  The national churches have, as a whole, left their Lutheran and biblical basis; they are now Lutheran in name only, not in reality. …

… What is alarming is that the word tolerance also has been given a new meaning.  It now implies that it is no longer acceptable to maintain absolute truth or that there is an absolute line between good and evil. The word tolerance has become a crowbar to leverage everybody into relativism and an instrument to change Christian churches into silent cowards, particularly on ethical issues. Thus tolerance has become repressive.  [Emphasis added] …

So the Constantinian era is coming to an end. This means that the true Christian church today will gradually find itself in a situation similar to the church of the first three centuries in becoming a despised minority and losing the privileges to which we have become accustomed. This may be an advantage to the church, as it always has been during times of adversity and trouble that the church of Christ has gained health and found her way back to her true identity. Yes, we can be of good courage!

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